Mark Twain, noted California chronicaler and climatologist (“The coldest winter I ever saw was the Summer I spent in San Francisco…“) might not have actually made the telling remark that “Whisky’s for drinking and water’s for fighting over,” but whoever did was certainly on the mark.
California faces huge problems with water. We’ve long been warned about the murky history of Owens River water and that we live in a Cadillac Desert. Currently 80% of the state is under extreme drought conditions, and with a changing climate and growing population, this is not a situation that will get better on its own. While Coastal California concerns itself with transitioning browning lawns to badges of honor, the Central Valley is literally sinking as farmers pump groundwater at increasingly higher levels.
“We’re talking about land subsidence due to the compaction of the aquifer system, which is a result of lowering ground water levels, which is mostly caused by pumping,” said hydrologist Michelle Sneed of the U.S. Geological Survey. As BakersfieldNow.com notes, the groundwater pumping is also affecting the way we move water on the surface. The sinking valley is damaging water canals that bring water to thirsty Southern California, and also protect us from flooding in wet years. If flood control channels are damaged by subsiding land, they will not be able to properly direct water flow away from the towns and cities in the Central Valley.
California is the only state in the western United States that does not regulate groundwater pumping, and water management and policy throughout the years has been a “backwater” of questionable agricultural practices, “un-metering” and promotion of expensive, unsustainable storage facilities. The time has come for all of us to take responsibility for our watershed. Just like with energy (& energy efficiency) policy, we need a Loading Order, a weighting of prioirties as we formulate hugely expensive water bonds, referendums and budgets.
Efficiency/Conservation programs at the local utility level (wPACE, On-Bill, etc.)
Centralized and/or onsite recycling and reuse at the local utility level
Existing Water Storage maintenance (dredging, seismic retrofit)
Stormwater capture and management
Groundwater/Aquifer remediation and recharge programs
Watershed management (regional)
Urban River restoration and management
USGBC California recognizes that water and effective, sustainable water policy is worth fighting over (our views on whisky are somewhat mixed, although I personally can vouch for bourbon-marinated grilled corn). We have a great model with California energy policy’s hierarchy emphasizing efficiency first and foremost and then sustainable, distributed generation. Let’s use it towards building a better water future. Click on the letter image above to get the PDF file.